Great Decisions
Karen Leith, 1-9-2019
Great Discussions coming up for LWV

LWVHudson invites all interested citizens to discuss important topics of U.S. foreign policy at Laurel Lake on Tuesday mornings starting Jan. 22 and lasting nine weeks. Sessions run from 10 to 11:15 a.m.

The Hudson group has been sponsoring these discussions for more than 35 years. Each session starts with a 25-minute video on the topic followed by active discussion based on the briefing book published by the Foreign Policy Association.

Only cost to participants is $28 for the briefing book which can be attained by emailing Karen Leith at or by coming to the first session which will be an introduction to the program.

Topics and dates include:

• Jan. 22: An introduction to the program.

• Jan. 29: Refugees and Global Migration by Karen Jacobsen. Today, no countries have open borders. Every state in today’s global system has its own laws and policies about who is permitted to cross its borders, and how they will do so. Who determines whether someone is a refugee or a migrant? How have different countries, including the United States, reacted to migration?

How effective are the international laws, policies and organizations that have evolved to assist and protect refugees and migrants?

• Feb. 5: The Middle East: Regional Disorder by Lawrence G. Potter. As the presidency of Donald J. Trump passes the halfway point, the Middle East remains a region in turmoil. The Trump administration has aligned itself with strongmen in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, which along with Israel have a common goal of frustrating Iranian expansion. What will be the fallout from policy reversals such as withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear accord and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem? Does the United States see a path forward in troubled states such as Syria, Yemen, Libya and Iraq? Is the United States headed toward war with Iran?

• Feb. 12: Nuclear Negotiations: Back to the Future? by Ronald J. Bee. Nuclear weapons have not gone away and the Trump administration has brought a new urgency, if not a new approach, to dealing with them. The president has met with Vladimir Putin as the New Start Treaty with Russia comes up for renewal in 2021, the first presidential summit ever with Kim Jong-un occurred to discuss denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, and President Trump has decertified the Obama nuclear deal with Iran. To what degree should past nuclear talks guide future U.S. nuclear arms control negotiations? Can the art of the deal apply to stabilizing our nuclear future?

• Feb. 19: The Rise of Populism in Europe by James Kirchick. Mass migration, and the problems associated with it, have directly abetted the rise of populist parties in Europe. Opposition to immigration was the prime driver of support for Brexit, it brought a far-right party to the German Bundestag for the first time since the 1950s, and propelled Marine Le Pen to win a third of the vote in the French presidential election.

In addition to calling for stronger borders, however, these parties are invariably illiberal, anti-American, anti-NATO and pro-Kremlin, making their rise a matter of serious concern for the national security interests of the United States.

• Feb. 26: Decoding U.S.China Trade by Jeremy Haft.

Though arguably the most advanced economy in the world, the United States still uses centuries- old numbers to measure trade. These antique numbers mangle understanding of the U.S.-China trade relationship, shrinking America’s true economic size and competitiveness, while swelling China’s. Bad numbers give rise to bad policies that ultimately kill U.S. jobs and cede market share to China.

What other tools can the United States employ to counter China’s unfair trade practices?

Is the United States prepared to respond to such threats?

• March 12: The United States and Mexico: Partnership Tested by Michael Shifter and Bruno Binetti. The United States and Mexico have a long, intertwined history, with both countries prominently featured in each other’s politics and agendas. The war on drugs, immigration and trade issues have taxed the relationship over the years.

What impact will new leadership in both countries have on this crucial partnership?

• March 19: State of the State Department and Diplomacy by Nicholas Burns During the Trump administration, the usual ways of conducting diplomacy have been upended. Many positions in the State Department have never been filled, and meetings with foreign leaders such as Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin have been undertaken with little advance planning. What effect are these changes having now, and how will they affect ongoing relationships between the United States and its allies and adversaries?

The first “Great Decisions” group was launched in Portland, Ore., in 1954 by FPA’s Vice President Roger Mastrude. Based on the so-called “Avon” model of face-to-face, active and informal conversation, participants would read a fact sheet on each of the eight topics before meetings, where they aired their respective views and opinions. FPA would tally up opinion ballots and report the results to the Department of State. The program gained media attention, was picked up by local schools and soon gained national attention.

The grassroots, face-to-face model adopted by Great Decisions more than 50 years ago continues today, with tens of thousands of participants taking part in discussions nationwide annually. In this time of transition and change, it is important to not only be knowledgeable, but also to voice informed opinions. Part of the deliberations must include respect for all opinions and thoughtful listening to one another. Common ground is necessary to move forward.

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